By now most manufactures have made all of their big announcements, updates, and new product launches for the 2017 model year. There isn’t much for big news to report, but one thing is becoming painfully clear; the SUV is for the most part a thing of the past. If that line sounds familiar, it’s because I think I’ve written it before. As it has been for the last few years, the crossover is king and off-road aptitude even less of a concern to consumers now than it was a few years ago. So what are people going to buy if they can’t buy solid axle, body on frame, lift-ready SUVs?
Not to beat the proverbial dead horse, but it is disheartening to see how few actual SUVs remain on the market. The absentees from the last few years include the Xterra, FJCruiser, and then there are the SUVs that live on only in namesake. The Pathfinder, Explorer, and Cherokee are certainly fine vehicles, but better suited to domestic duties and road tripping than backwoods exploring. The Pathfinder, once a great 4×4, has less off-road capability than some wagons. This is also the swan song year of the current Land Rover Discovery model, the LR4. We will get a better look at the 2017 replacement at the Paris auto show, but I think we all know it won’t have much in common with its Camel Trophy predecessors.
This isn’t to say the crossover and wagon market is a bad segment or bereft of options suitable for the vehicle enthusiast. I loved driving Jaguar’s supercharged F-Pace and the Mercedes GLA AMG is an absolute blast and will smoke many so called sports cars. For those looking for something to ferry further afield, I like what Subaru has on offer, and Jeep has done better than most to ensure their crossover models retain as much adventure potential as can be expected of the category.
The few teaser shots we’ve seen of the new Discovery lead us to believe it will not be much of a replacement for the current model if overland travel is the end goal. Jaguar’s entry into the crossover market follows the successful path of the Range Rover Evoque.
Within the range of actual SUVs, the kind which appeal to the traditional overlander, that selection continues to dwindle. The modern SUV is no longer built for the rough and tumble because simply put, the market doesn’t demand it. Look no further than Sollihul for examples of this recent trend. Land Rover can’t make enough tarmac-biased SUVs to keep pace with sales. One of the fastest growing automotive brands in the world, their recent road to success has been lined with curbs and painted lines, not rocks and mud.
For the coming year there are a few stalwarts to be had, but not many. The 4Runner will continue to garner its share of SUV sales, and is a proven performer in the dirt. On the Jeep front, the final year of the current Wrangler will likely prove as successful as all years prior. The anticipation for updated Wranglers always creates interesting buying rational. Some will hold off to get the new Wrangler while others will snatch up the 2017 model before Jeep “ruins” it. On the Grand Cherokee side of things, Jeep is releasing a Trailhawk model that should make for a fun travel platform. I loved the 3,000 miles I put on the diesel Grand. It may be more refined than what some prefer, but it is a mile eater and does respectably well off road, even completing the Rubicon, albeit with some challenges.
Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee Trailhawk tacked the Rubicon recently and proved it is worthy of its Trail Rated badge.
There is some fun stuff on the horizon in the coming year for Jeep. For those overanders who baulked when the Renegade arrived and said it would be the death knell for the brand…you were wrong. And won’t you be surprised to learn one of the most celebrated overlanders of all time has decided to make the Renegade his vehicle of choice. Is this a new direction for overland travel, the compact crossover? Maybe, and maybe out of necessity.
The other SUVs that remain are almost not worth mentioning because statistically none of you are going to buy them. As lovely as a new Land Cruiser is, they sell in numbers fewer than Ferraris. The G-Wagen, now available in the 4×4 Squared iteration with portal axles and super car horsepower, will fetch more money than a nice house. I don’t foresee bumping into any of those on my local roads.
A new entry into the mix is the 2017 Nissan Armada, a vehicle that like the Suburban, Sequoia, and other big boys has gone mostly ignored by the overlander. Previously built on the Titan platform, nobody seemed to want it. This year the Armada is built on the same platform as the Patrol as sold in other markets––sorta. It doesn’t have a locking rear differential, descent control, or the surface selectable traction control systems of the actual Patrol. It’s a bit neutered and still a bloated beast. With a new V8 engine for 2017 it does have great towing power at 8,500 pounds and although 17mpg is nothing to write home about, it isn’t terrible. With tons of interior cargo space for travel, and ample room for passengers, it might appeal to some overlanders. It also sells for an approachable price starting at just $39,000, although that won’t win you much for features. That’s half the price of a Land Cruiser, but then again, it’s not nearly the same level of vehicle, either.
For the off-road purist, those in search of optimal trail chops, there are but a handful of choices like the Wrangler, 4Runner, and untouchables like the G-Wagen and Cruiser. The pickup segment might be the better go-to for those drivers. The updated Tacoma, Chevy Colorado with diesel engine, Ram Rebel, and refreshed Ford Raptor prove the truck market has picked up the off-road torch where the SUV segment may have let it fizzle. If you’re really going to push it into the backcountry, you might be better off in one of the late model off-road spec’ed pickups. A new Power Wagen even comes off the lot with lockers and a winch.
There is another trend worth mentioning. That is the increasing number of overlanders seeking live-aboard travel solutions. The evolution leading up to this has been interesting. Ten years ago, the built SUV and rooftop tent were a popular pairing. Then trailer solutions were the hot ticket. With the pickup becoming more desirable for its trail aptitude, the slide-in camper started to sell in big numbers. When Sprinters, ProMasters, Transits, and other vans hit the scene, that opened the door for more people electing to sacrifice rock crawling potential for a cozy rolling abode, one that may not conquer the roughest trails, but maybe access a remote camping spot. Look to see more vans enter the overland mix in the coming years.
What new vehices will overlanders buy in 2017? Most likely more pickups, a handful of vans, and quite a few will end up in crossovers. One thing is certain––the future looks bleak for those drivers who long for traditional off-road travel wagons. Overlanding has always required adaptability and that may involve our choice of vehicles.
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